“The forms in which we learn to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas. Any man can see and understand a picture; it is reserved for the few to separate anything out of the confusion of nature, and see that distinctly and with intelligence.“
Robert Louis Stevens, An Autumn Effect
Today, it’s hard to miss the arrival of a new season. It is coming on strong, bringing grey skies and softer lighting that at first seems to make things look dull and thick compared to the recent of the bright lights and colors of summer.
For those familiar with the almost unbelievably bright colors of autumn in New England, the sparse autumn colors of southern California seem at first dull and miserable in October afternoon lights. The few deciduous trees in my yard, like the struggling purple ornamental plum and the liquid amber trees drop their leaves with little fanfare: they fade from an unenthusiastic yellow to quiet shades of brown, and then one morning they’re gone.
So it rained, and brought a week of cloudy skies and drizzle along with cooler nights, shorter days, and less sunshine. We are beginning the season of mixed blessings. In exchange for the gardener’s relief from hot dry weather, the rains offer not just a relief from the dry heat but protect the exhausted landscape from fires that the wind blowing west. The first heavy rains not only wash off the parched leaves and branches, they clean out the deadfall, particularly from the eucalyptus trees which tend to shed and peel bark beneath their branches so they end up sitting on top of small hills made from their discarded growth. After the first rain, our driveway is covered with leaves and bark that sheds like snakeskin.
But if you can welcome our gentle autumn with subtle almost monochrome colors, there is beauty waiting for those with the a gardener’s intelligence to see. The sky seems bigger than it did in summer when the living earth distracted my glance, and new somber shades of blue and grey are used to make thicker and more ominous-looking clouds. They hurry across the sky, flirting with sunshine in the chill winds.
Then there are the colors of the eucalyptus trees - there are 600-700 different species, native to Australia but naturalized in California for about a hundred years. The eucalyptus tree is not deciduous, instead continually growing and replacing leaves. Also called gum trees, their bark peels and drops and litters the surrounding area that they are often (mistakenly) presumed to be allopathic. They are messy however, particularly when the first rains are vigorous enough to pare dead growth from stem and trunk.
I fondly recall my seasons in the north east US with their pageantry and rich colors. But I now find nothing more reassuring as the gardening year winds down here than the still art of eucalyptus bark painted in the colors of the landscape and as understandable as Steven’ picture of autumn.